Reading Room Log: A Literary Biography of “Early” Travel Writing

Photograph of a young Eleanor Early, Eleanor Early Papers, MS 1995-05, Box 14, Folder 41, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Photograph of a young Eleanor Early, Box 14, Folder 41, Eleanor Early Papers, MS.1995.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

In an earlier post, we explored the idea of writing your own edition using archival materials here at Burns.  This assignment, part of the Introduction to Advanced Research Methods class’s work,  is one variation of three that the students in this class choose in order to complete their final paper.  This week, let’s think about writing a literary biography of a little-known journalist named Eleanor Early.  After examining the finding aid for this collection, you’ve found that you’re interested in Early’s career as a travel writer. You noticed the large number of manuscripts and photographs available in this collection and were curious to learn more about the adventures of this intrepid journalist and author.

A literary biography or literary history is actually quite similar to writing your own edition.  But you’ll choose a larger number of documents (i.e. more than 8 – 10) and write a paper that talks about what’s in them and tells the whole story. If the story you want to tell is contained in a very large number of documents (too many to edit), then a literary biography is the right project for you because you can tell the story by quoting from the documents rather than analyzing each document separately.  Again, you’ll be tracking down references to people, places, events, etc., and using secondary sources (and maybe some additional primary sources) to fill in the gaps.

Some of Early's Travel Notes from the Caribbean, Eleanor Early Papers, MS 1995-05, Box 11, Folder 3, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Some of Early’s Travel Notes from the Caribbean, Box 11, Folder 3, Eleanor Early Papers, MS.1995.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

First you start out by learning a little more about Early from the finding aid.  Eleanor Early was born April 27, 1895 in Newton, Massachusetts. She grew up and attended school in Wellesley and attended Miss Wheelock’s School (later Wheelock College) in Boston, where she was in a program for Kindergarten teachers, and graduated in 1917. But she preferred to be a reporter, and started working for Boston newspapers, first as a cub reporter who could not type, and then a feature writer. In the mid and late 1920s, she was a freelance writer for the International News Service. Also at this time, she tried her hand at writing fiction, serialized in newspapers, and later published as books. While covering the Boston Braves spring training in Saint Petersburg, Florida, she had so many questions about Boston that she decided to write a book on it, leading to her first travel book, And This is Boston! (1930). It was followed by several more, the last being Washington Holiday (1955). She also lived and wrote in Washington, D.C. and for many years lived in New York City, with an apartment overlooking Central Park. She lived in Dominica and other islands of the West Indies during the period in the 1930’s when she wrote Ports of the Sun  (1937) and Lands of Delight (1939).

Photograph of Eleanor Early riding a rickshaw in Durban, South Africa, Eleanor Early Papers, MS1995-05, Box 14, Folder 21, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Photograph of Eleanor Early riding a rickshaw in Durban, South Africa, Box 14, Folder 21, Eleanor Early Papers, MS.1995.005, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Using the photographs, manuscripts and correspondence in the Eleanor Early Papers, your final paper will help you understand how valuable archival research is to your development as a scholar.  From analyzing documents carefully to piecing them together to form a cohesive narrative, you’ll begin to feel a bit like a detective solving a mystery.  If you are interested in the Eleanor Early Papers, then look at the finding aid or contact the Burns Library Reading Room at 617-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

  • Justine Sundaram, Reference Librarian/Bibliographer, John J. Burns Library

About John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 200,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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2 Responses to Reading Room Log: A Literary Biography of “Early” Travel Writing

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